"I have that moment to thank" - Daigo Umehara on EVO moment 37, Street Fighter 6, and more
When talking about the greatest fighting game players of all time, Daigo Umehara will always be in the conversation. He’s been an active fighting game pro since 1995, when he entered GAMEST Cup’s national Vampire Hunter tournament. Though he did not come out on top, that did not dull his love for the competitive scene, and he would come back in 1997, defeating Nuki in the finals.
There are too many fighting game players to name who were inspired by Evo Moment #37, where Daigo Umehara went down to the wire with Justin Wong, claiming victory from the jaws of defeat. I’m one of those people, and though I had already casually been playing fighting games for years at that point, it was such an inspirational moment.
I recently sat down and chatted with Daigo Umehara about his time in fighting games, EVO Moment #37, and what the future holds for one of the greatest fighting game players. He also discussed the usefulness of the Hit Box, writing a book, and being the star of a manga series.
Daigo Umehara was elated to reach a top 8 again at EVO
Q. First, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us! I’ve been a fan since the beginning of your career. This year was the first time you’ve taken a top 8 spot at EVO in several years. How did that feel to you to reach those heights again?
Daigo: It was my first Evo Top 8 finish for Street Fighter V, and I’m glad I ended on a high note in SFV’s final year.
Q. What do you think attributed to that success? Did you change how you approached practice or your matches?
Daigo: With the state of the pandemic, I couldn’t travel anywhere, even domestically, let alone compete overseas. Thus, I had more time to practice at home. I think the benefits of that extra training are plain to see. It’s been a good reminder that, in the end, strong results come from solid training.
Q. Fighting games occasionally have characters that are considered “joke” characters or weak characters. A fine example is Dan Hibiki. How do you feel about these kinds of characters in fighting games? Do you think these “joke” characters are still viable in competitive play?
Daigo: Each player gets to choose whichever character they like. Some people like choosing “joke” characters, and I think that’s just fine.
Q. Though you’re well known for your experience in the Street Fighter series, you also spent some time as a kid playing Vampire Hunter. Is that a series you think deserves another entry in the modern day?
Daigo: As a fan, I’d love to see a new one, but realistically, I’m not sure it’s very likely.
Q. You were perhaps most known for your mechanically sound Ryu gameplay through Street Fighter IV, but more recently switched to Guile. What prompted this change? Did Ryu’s strength fall off, or was something else the inspiration?
Daigo: I like Ryu, so I tried my best to stick it out with him. I’m not a fan of choosing characters based purely on their strength. But since I’m a pro player, to some extent, I have to be able to win, or there’s not much point. When I’m only playing for myself, I can stick to my policy without troubling anyone else, but I am obligated to the fans and sponsors who support me professionally.
I struggled quite a bit with this idea but decided to switch to Guile, who suited my style of play. That decision was the biggest turning point not only in my professional life but in my life as a player.
Q. Street Fighter V was often criticized for its state at launch. How do you think the game has held up over the years? Do you think its legacy will be a positive one?
Daigo: I think, ultimately, it turned out very well-balanced.
Q. How did you feel about Akuma’s entry into Tekken 7? Did he feel accurate and enjoyable to you?
Daigo: I think it’s cool when they do crossovers with other games.
Q. Back in August, you announced your sponsorship by Hit Box. As a player who spent decades with a fight stick or playing in the arcades, how does the Hit Box feel to you? Does it make specific actions or combos easier?
Daigo: Looking at Street Fighter's direction since SFV, I think the Hit Box will only continue its trend toward becoming the dominant option. As with anything, it requires some perseverance to get started, but once you get a feel for it, it’s considerably more effective than a stick.
Q. Can you give new Hit Box owners advice on what they should focus on in Street Fighter to make the most of their practice time?
Daigo: This goes for about anything, but you’ve got to build muscle memory through training and repetition. Practice; practice; practice.
Q. As a well-seasoned fighting game player, what is your all-time favorite fighting game, and who do you enjoy playing?
Daigo: Street Fighter II, which was jaw-dropping. It’s the one that first got me hooked on fighting games. Ryu and Guile have a special place for me.
Q. Do you have any wishlist items you hope to appear in the game? Mechanics, returning characters, or even lore characters that have been teased but never made it into a game?
Daigo: I hope they keep SFV’s “white health” system.
Q. You have inspired thousands of players with EVO Moment 37 against Justin Wong. Fighting games can often be challenging to start, however. Do you have any advice for new or returning players who look up to you?
Daigo: There’s no denying that fighting games demand much more work than other games, but the trade-off is they’re much deeper and more enjoyable. The one-on-one mind games play out in mere milliseconds. The mind-blowing drama. You won’t find these things in another genre. Meanwhile, you have a community full of unique people who are passionate, fun, and warm.
These are the most fun games you can find. I know it takes courage to enter a tournament, but I urge people to get involved in online or local communities, sign up for those tournaments, and start making many connections. That’s the trick to getting better, but more importantly, it’s where the real fun is.
Q. On EVO Moment 37 it’s often credited as one of the most exciting moments in fighting games. How does it feel to know you and Justin Wong have that legacy? What was the reception or reaction like for that moment, at that moment?
Daigo: I’d be different now if not for that moment. At the time, I didn’t even know people were talking about it, but now, as I enter my fourteenth year as a pro player and have made a name for myself, I know I have that moment to thank. It’s a great honor.
Q. You’ve also had a manga created about you and written a book, “The Will to Keep Winning.” How were these projects received by fans, in your estimation?
Daigo: The book was published in Japan in 2012 and became a bestseller. After demand from fans overseas, an English translation was published in 2016. Both versions continue to sell well, and I often receive messages from fans about how the book has inspired them.
The book outlines my philosophy, and I’m glad it seems to have helped people. One of my professional goals was to collect my thoughts into a book, but I never dreamed I’d have my manga. I’m happy it’s been translated into English so more people can read it.
Q. What’s next for Daigo Umehara? Do you have any goals or plans for 2023?
Daigo: I’m just looking forward to Street Fighter 6. I’m excited to stand on a new starting line and work on my game while battling it out with players worldwide. In 2025, I’m hoping to throw a “10,000-person tournament” on the level of events from SFII’s heyday, so throughout ’23 and ’24, I’ll be running tournaments of gradually expanding scope.
You can find "The Beast," Daigo Umehara on Twitter, Mildom, and his YouTube channel.